Bamako Stories and Tips

Exploring Bamako's markets

I have heard on several occasions that Bamako is the most African of the capitals in the region, but I personally find the comment a little bemusing. However, such descriptions could possibly be due to the hectic but incredibly genial atmosphere somewhat akin to an oversized village where market day occurs all through the week.

One initial impression is likely to be that the entire place is one single huge bazaar, and really that is not too far from the truth, for the vast majority of the capital's commercial life occurs on the streets. Masses of colourfully attired people, many of whom are carrying loads on their heads, vie for space on the pavements with rows of ramshackle wooden stalls and cabins, from which just about everything available in Mali is sold. Meanwhile, the constant stream of mopeds and minibuses that fill the chaotic roads, a soundtrack of music coming from all directions, and the general friendliness of the locals combine to make visiting the centre a truly exhilarating experience that in my opinion should definitely not be missed, even if shopping is by no means a goal.

The focal point of activity was once the Grand Market, which burned down during the early 1990s. Despite the structure being rebuilt to look just like the original Pink Market, as it was and still is nicknamed due to the eye-catching and all encompassing colour scheme, many of the traders have proved to be reluctant to vacate their interim roadside positions and return to the new complex. However, although the concrete rendition of the typical local building style has not been too popular, going there is nevertheless worthwhile because only from up on the ramparts is it possible to see an undeniably engaging overview of the relentless bustle below. The area seen from the elevated position is largely home to vendors offering a wide range of goods, from household utensils to jewellery and West African cloths to lots of imitation brand name clothes. Nowadays it all pretty much merges with the somewhat inaccurately named Small Market, which is distinguishable only because the items that can be purchased there are predominantly various kinds of foodstuffs, such as fruits, spices and kola nuts.

There is also the Fetish Market, specialising in traditional medicines and charms made from dead animals, for example monkey heads and dried reptiles. It is not particularly for the faint hearted, as the sight and smell of the merchandise festering under the hot sun is quite unpleasant. However, the place does provide a morbid but interesting insight into Malian life, revealing how Islam has merely overlaid rather than supplanted previous beliefs, which is particularly pertinent given the close proximity of the Grand Mosque.

Finally, the nearby Artisans' Market is a fine spot in which to purchase souvenirs. The craftsmen based there not only sell their wares, but also can be frequently seen creating all kinds of objects associated with the region, including goods made from leather, silver and other metals, as well as musical instruments. The quality of stock is generally good, as are the prices, although a little friendly haggling is usually required.

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